A 17-year-old Las Vegas teen dreamed about making a difference. With determination and hard work, Nathan DeVera, a junior at The Meadows School, made his vision a reality.
A year ago, DeVera had the idea to find an art festival willing to sell artwork by Opportunity Village clients, to raise money and awareness for the organization and its cause.
In the Opportunity Village arts program, people with intellectual disabilities learn to make art pieces, one of the most well-known of which is the scarf. As a supporter of Opportunity Village, Elvis Presley would wear them during performances and throw them to the audience, and the scarf tradition continues.
It was a scarf, in fact, that inspired DeVera.
“My stepdad and mom do lots of community service,” he said. “One day, my stepdad brought home one of these scarves from Opportunity Village.”
When he first saw the hand-painted scarf, DeVera, who owns three of them, could not help but admire its beauty.
“Sometimes people with intellectual disabilities aren’t looked at as equals, even though we say we support the cause,” he said. “If you take a look at a piece of artwork and say to someone that a person with a mental disability made it, they are surprised.”
Carrying out the plan of marketing the scarves was more difficult than DeVera anticipated.
“It’s truly been a year’s making,” he said.
When he proposed the project to Opportunity Village, the organization immediately supported the idea.
“Opportunity Village has been 100 percent on board this entire time, waiting for me to find a festival that would sponsor us,” he said.
But that part was more difficult.
“A year ago, I asked if our school could host some sort of art gallery and invite the Meadows family to view this art and maybe even donate to the charity by buying this art,” he said. “The idea was shot down.”
But the determined teen did not give up easily. He then contacted the leader of the Summerlin Art Festival with hopes of getting a sponsored tent there, although that didn’t work out, either.
“When the idea was shot down twice, I second-guessed myself on what I was doing wrong,” he said. Although he had moments of doubt, he continued to search for other options.
DeVera looked for festivals outside Las Vegas and found the Boulder City Spring Jamboree as the perfect venue. It’s a lively festival with arts and crafts, entertainment, interactive games and rides for children, and a car show.
Ultimately, the person who made the project possible, DeVera said, was Jill Rowland-Lagan, CEO of the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce.
“I pitched my same idea to her,” he said. “She fell in love with it and was able to get me free booth space. Mrs. Lagan was very accommodating. In her mind, it wasn’t as difficult or complicated project as everyone made it seem.”
“I am a huge supporter of all organizations that help people with special needs,” Rowland-Lagan said, “I truly believe we should be doing more for this amazing segment of the population, and I was thrilled with Nathan’s creative idea to be at the Jam to display some very talented artwork.”
“With a person who supports it 100 percent, I knew it would go all the way,” DeVera said.
He worked as the middleman between Opportunity Village and the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce, making countless calls and emails to coordinate the project.
Since the project is so close to his heart, DeVera wanted to incorporate his school.
“The Meadows School means a lot to me and I would like them to be a part of the experience,” he said.
He contacted the Meadows chapter of the National Art Honor Society to help spread the word and possibly even sell their own artwork to help raise money for Opportunity Village.
“Even though NAHS wasn’t able to come, I was still able to get them interested and aware of the event and its cause,” he said. “One of my teachers was even able to promote it at a Best Buddies walk.”
May 3 and 4, DeVera’s vision became a reality at the Spring Jamboree. In the open square, the booth sold paintings, drawings, placards, scarves, ties and many other art pieces created by Opportunity Village artists, with all proceeds going directly to the organization.
“The event was a huge success,” DeVera said. Although it earned only about $250, it spread a lot of awareness.
“Despite the amount of money we made, whether it be $10 or a million dollars, we were able to kick-start an event like this that plans to repeat itself not only at the same event year after year, but at different events around the city, state and possibly even nation,” he said. “We also were able to speak with many people who were very interested in learning more about Opportunity Village and who even wanted to volunteer in the future. Most importantly, the event gave us a chance to spread awareness for the organization.”
“He and the others did an amazing job and it was a great addition to the event,” Rowland-Lagan said. Because of the booth’s success, DeVera and Opportunity Village are invited to the Boulder City arts and crafts festival in October, in addition to next year’s jamboree.
“It is more of a tradition than anything,” DeVera said. “If a student does not take over, hopefully Opportunity Village will continue this project in the future.”
With the help of Opportunity Village and its ties to Best Buddies, he would like to reach out to other art festivals.
“Although this charity is solely in Las Vegas, they have great ties to Best Buddies and it is definitely a viable option that they could send many of the art pieces to other states that have huge art festivals and showcase these scarves to people around the world,” he said. “In doing so, I hope to expand the popularity of these scarves to help raise money for Opportunity Village while also raising an even greater awareness of where this beautiful art comes from: the mentally handicapped.”